I was recently scrolling through FaceBook the other day and I came across a remembrance of a High School friend, one who I had not known had passed. I couldn’t believe it, so I reached out to find out how he had passed, he was one of the first people to buy one of my paintings, and I was so grateful at the time, I still am. A significant amount of time had passed, between me reaching out and the time I did find out what had happened and for a moment I had felt guilty that I had forgotten reaching out. At the time I was going through my own stresses which were increasing exponentially. Then one day I was sent a message and I was informed that he had succumbed to challenges from mental health. I was devastated because again at the time I felt the walls closing around myself.
America has a tendency of only talking about something until it happens to a celebrity, I’m not sure why I’m surprised by this, but I am. I’m old enough to remember that the AIDS epidemic wasn’t important until a movie star called Rock Hudson back in the day contracted the disease. You can Google him if you’d like but his bought with AIDS gave it the attention AIDS should have gotten when scores of Gay men were dying from it. However it seemed to me that everyone began to take it very seriously when Magic Johnson the famous basketball player contracted HIV, another celebrity. So now I believe we are in celebrity moments of observing successful Black stars deal with mental illness. I mean as much as I’ve written about Kanye or Ye, I have come to the understanding that he is in pain, and no I’m not a doctor but game recognizes game. However, so many of us are suffering in America from mental illness, but there is still a stigma and a denial especially in the Black community. And so many think that money will solve those woes until they don’t. Imagine loving rap and falling in between the RUN DMC’s cut ‘It’s Like That’ and a part of the song saying, “Money’s the key to end all your woes…..” Then years later the Notorious BIG, rapping about, ‘More Money More Problems,’ it could get confusing.
Now as I write this post America is/was talking about Stephen “tWitch” Boss, he was a Dj for the ‘Ellen DeGeneres Show,’ and a famous dancer. Beloved by fans and celebrities alike. He has even inspired other celebrities like Tyler Perry to come forward and admit his bouts with depression and Perry’s attempts at suicide. This is a good thing. However when it comes to mental health in America I believe we should be talking about it more, especially in the Black community. And yes in many ways we are, and yes in many ways we are not.
As a child I remember once saying that I was depressed, and an adult relative replied with something to the effect of, ‘Child what do you have to be depressed about’, at the time a lot. Being beaten at home, bullied at school, growing up in a place where gangsters used to do drive by’s at our school just for fun. But growing up I never remember anyone ever talking to me about it, as a child that was just a normal Monday for me. So I carried all those moments of trauma with me into my adult life and they have become more acute as I write this. I’ve noticed in the Black community that there is a tendency to kick someone when they are down, this I believe is a reaction to seeing the trauma in someone else trigger our own and it would be better do kick them when they are down rather than put your arms around them and just say, ‘I’ll do what I can.’ And even more recently I talked to a relative of mine who said that they told their child when they were having suicidal thoughts, that they should go through with it as away to spur them away from those suicidal thoughts. Needless to say said relative is not a psychologist or psychiatrist, and I will be second guessing myself on asking them advice on anything.
As a society we are ill equipped to deal with trauma honestly, however I think it’s more acute in the Black community, that is the dealing with it or even talking about it. Slavery is one of the most traumatic things that can happen to a people and we as a nation and a people refuse to talk about the reality of how trauma is passed from one generation to the next, in our blood pressure, our diabetes, our addictions etc. Yes, we are turning more toward the consideration of mental health as a whole. I believe . However in America and the Black community, there is a subtle dismissiveness, meaning that if you have a mental illness due to the trauma you’ve experienced you are weak. I would like to think that thought process is starting to fade and that we are more aware of how mental illness affects individuals and society. And now in some pockets where we are talking about trauma there is a tendency to play the game of oneupmanship with trauma, when we come in contact with those that are also suffering, it’s the my trauma is greater than your trauma game. This is a very sad and dangerous trend, especially in the Black community, that is if we are going to have a serious talk about trauma. In my opinion how you feel about anything that has been traumatic to you should be met with understanding and compassion, and should not delve into a conversation where the sufferers of trauma are comparing psychological war wounds. If you are a person that has had a traumatic experience, and who hasn’t, then have compassion for others that have as well. And if you are one of those rare people that has never had a traumatic experience, then have compassion for us all.
Even Jesus experienced trauma, you think he didn’t, you try being nailed to the cross or being responsible for the souls of humanity at a point in time where loving thy neighbor is at an all time low. Humanity must have always been traumatic for Jesus, as people raped in his name, killed in his name, enslaved in his name. It’s enough to ask oneself if Jesus himself ever gets depressed. Thinking about this as I write this post, it reminds me of what the Buddha said, ‘Life is Suffering’, maybe more of us would understand that statement if we changed the word ‘suffering’ to the word traumatic.
The problem is that when trauma isn’t dealt with it can fester, I’ve seen it in myself and I know that I need help. Recently I believe that I may be losing my wife, which for me would be traumatic. Yet and still it is one brick built upon so many others that have become a wall that I have masoned since I can remember. A wall, that has become another wall that has become, another wall, that has become another wall that is now a cell. A cell that I’m banging my head against blaming myself for my own anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, and lack of success. I’ve seen how not dealing with my trauma and mental illness has made me make poor decisions in the macro and the micro, and I beat myself up in the process for making said decisions. Just today as I write this post I berated myself for hours, because I couldn’t find my favorite pen. Yes, I may suffer from OCD as well. I will go more into my mental health challenges in another post, because I believe context is important. Let me just say now I am seeking help however like so many Black people in society mental health resources are few and far between and many of us don’t know where to look. Especially if you are financially challenged, and yes I am financially challenged, back in the day people used to call it poor. I think one of the first things we have to do is to stop diminishing trauma and the extensions therein, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia etc. Listen to those that suffer and don’t recommend fantasies but realities. Most of all have compassion for them, and if it’s too hard for you to have the conversation because it triggers your own trauma join resources and try to find somewhere to go together. It may be a little difficult but doing it together I believe will help.
Right now I’m in a space where yes I feel doubtful of myself, unsure, ashamed, unloved but I’m going to find help and I’ve listened to one podcast in particular it’s this one from the Ezra Klein Show, it has helped me immensely and I’ve listened to it at least five times, it has given me hopes about tools and practices to learn to live free in my own head. Another person that has helped is Gabor Mate’, he is a physician and an author and you can find many of his lectures, interviews, and talks on YouTube. Here is one of his latest that I enjoyed, don’t get frustrated with the ads, like I did. Now am I trying to suggest that you can YouTube and Podcast your way through mental health of course not. I’m just suggesting that there are little gems that shine in the darkness as you seek help. We’re not alone. Also if you need immediate support you can call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.